[READ TIME 7 MINS]
WORDS BY MIMI GRAY
We first had the pleasure of meeting The Masons when we curated an exhibition of their series Simply Being Me together, back in 2018. What struck us first about The Masons, other than their sparkling aura ✨ [and incredible fashion-sense] was their passion for representing different ideas of beauty within art. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to meet The Masons, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. We’re big fans, we’ve even got the t-shirt and matching tote to prove it.
In this interview, we delve into their first meeting and gorgeous love story, chat about cultural identity and how it informs their personal style and discuss the aftermath of the most recent Black Lives Matter protests .
Tell us how you met & started working together.
We met on a fateful Saturday night in a club called Astoria GAY in Tottenham Court Road, which is no longer there. It was a great club night for dancing and meeting all different types of people of all nationalities. The attraction was instant and what started as a one night stand is still going strong 13 years later!
Photography and creativity has always played a big part in our own individual lives. However I totally fell in love with photography when I studied at London College of Fashion, I then creatively moved into the TV & Film Industry as a Costume Designer [says Donna-Marie]. Maruska has grown up around nature, forests, mountains, lakes and the sea and would continuously take photos of the beauty around her and where she fell in love with natural light and has an amazing and very unique understanding of it. So within our relationship it was natural for us to start taking photos of each other and of the beautiful countries and cultures we would travel to. We then got to the stage in our lives where I wanted to fully step into my artistry, for us both to make full use of our talents, be our own boss and to tell our own stories through our photography and film.
You are partners in life and in creativity. Which came first? How is it working as a couple?
We are both creative individuals, who happen to be partners in life, which is an amazing combination. We love working as a couple. We trust each other and know that at the end of the day we both want the same thing. Of course there are times when we don’t agree and when that happens we just talk it out. Communication and knowing and respecting each other’s strengths is key.
Where are you both from and how do your cultures inform your style?
I [Donna-Marie] was born in the UK, first generation black British. Maruska was born in Slovenia which used to be the old Yugoslavia. Our culture definitely informs our style. We have both experienced judgment on many levels. Me being a black woman who is gay, I’ve had to navigate my way through life to remind myself to be confident, vulnerable, strong and graceful. Maruska has been judged by her name, where she was born and being a gay woman who may speak a bit differently, she has also had to navigate her way to be seen and respected. These factors have had a huge impact on us, however we thrive on turning these negatives stories into positive stories, and this in-turn shows through our work.
You’ve become known for your casting and treatment of dark skin particularly in fashion imagery. How has the current climate in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests affected you both personally?
Donna-Marie: Personally for me the trauma I was experiencing within myself was unbearable, however I am surrounded by people who truly love me, and I had to remind myself that I am loved and I have to continue to use my platform unapologetically to push for social change. I am lucky to have a platform and audience and am able to influence and change culture in storytelling to some extend.
Maruska: Casting and treatment of skin have been our key priorities from the very start. I’ve always felt inspired by the beauty of melanin and was always shocked when I saw how people lit black skin so it looked white and pale. Doing justice to the beauty of dark skin is and will always be a huge part of our work – we are very very particular about the lighting of the skin in general, especially dark skin. Beyond that, casting is key for us as well. First, in terms of representation and in the telling of untold stories. Wherever we can we always push for diverse casting and people trust us with it. Also for us casting is always a personal process, we never see our subjects as clothes hangers, we are always interested in their stories and backgrounds – we see each shoot as collaboration between us and the subject we shoot, we want their stories to be part of our stories.
In light of Black Lives Matter movement, it’s amazing to see people coming together but what’s important is that we as white people step up our game in this fight against systematic racism and what’s key is stamina, honesty and persistence.
In light of Black Lives Matter movement, it’s amazing to see people coming together but what’s important is that we as white people step up our game in this fight against systematic racism and what’s key is stamina, honesty and persistence when we do that. It starts with educating yourself, being open minded, humble and honest when you ask yourself whether you are really doing everything that’s within your power to fight this fight. I see systematic racism every day and I’ve always been very vocal about that – I feel now people listen more than before but it really needs to be beyond and much deeper than doing it for the sake of your own image and how people see you. We have so much work to so, and it’s a long road ahead!
What change would you like to see in the industry?
For black and brown people and women to be included behind the camera and in front of the camera, for them to be included in telling stories from their perspectives. Not just in this industry but ALL industries across the board.
What message would you like people to take from your work?
For them to see something they haven’t seen before, to feel the emotional honesty, freedom and timelessness in each piece of our work. To see new perspectives on representation and beauty. To see our subjects and their emotions. To embrace multidimensionality and vulnerability as a sight of power and resistance.
Tell us the story behind a piece:
Too many times the narrative of a black boy is one of trauma, pain, judgment and self hate due to systemic racism.
The story behind Haruna was to show freedom and the strength in the playful, soft vulnerability of a boy who loves himself and is proud to be black. It’s about multi-dimensionality of black existence and the power of vulnerability and resistance.
What song are you both listening to at the moment?
I Know A Place by MUNA. We love to have a dance to that one 🙂
Name one good thing that came out of lockdown?
How do you cope with bad mental health days?
We are both very active, always have been, even before we met each other. We run, swim, hike. Maruska’s love of nature has enhanced my love of nature. I also train, do yoga, meditate and read. All this does wonders for our mental health, anxiety and self love.
Dark or light?
Do we have to choose? I would say we both have both, but it would have to be the light of the dark.